Kramer's New York is on view Personalities: The man who inspired the 'Seinfeld' neighbor takes tourists to sitcom sites.

January 25, 1998|By Lisa Carden | Lisa Carden,ORLANDO SENTINEL

More than 50 people are wedged into seats at a tiny off-Broadway theater called the Pulse. It is a cold Sunday afternoon in mid-December. As the crowd settles, people talk quietly, waiting for the man they've come to see take the stage.

"Ladies and gentlemen," says comedian Bobby Allen Brooks from the small stage in the front of the room, "the real Kramer has entered the building."

Heads swivel as people scan faces in the crowd. Could he be among us? Would we recognize the man who was the model for Cosmo Kramer, the wacko neighbor who for nine years has stumbled across our TV screens weekly and into Jerry Seinfeld's sitcom apartment?

The man himself

A tall, lean man in jeans and a Yankees baseball cap bounds down the stairs and onto the stage. He removes the cap with a flourish and shakes out his long, curly, gray hair, which had been hidden under the cap.

He greets the audience: "Hi, I'm Kenny Kramer!"

And Kramer's Reality Tour officially begins.

For a "Seinfeld" fan, this is the top of the mountain. I am giddy with excitement. After all, I am in the presence of the one, the only K Man.

Kramer and Brooks started the tour almost two years ago. Its mission: to point out sites significant to Kramer (the real one) and NBC's "Seinfeld." The three-hour tour, which has been spoofed on "Seinfeld," begins at the theater with a short video presentation in which Kramer introduces himself and greets his audience -- some of them by name ("So that's why they asked my name when I made the reservations," whispered a friend who took the tour with me).

We are lucky today: Kramer has decided to lead our tour. Because he shows up only when it moves him to do so, the video will be as close as most people will get to the real Kramer. And come February, Kramer will turn the reins over to his assistants and hit the road to promote the tour and himself.

Kramer, 54, had the good fortune to live across the hall from Larry David, a stand-up comedian, who wrote the early episodes of "Seinfeld" and created its off-beat characters. Cosmo Kramer was fashioned after David's neighbor and friend, Kenny. Paranoid, angry George is actually based on Larry David, says Kenny Kramer.

Kramer swivels around the microphone stand at the theater on West 42nd Street as he tells his story. As a former stand-up comedian, he is adept at pulling laughs from his audiences. He coaxes giggles and guffaws from the crowd, which ranges from a 14-year-old girl who can give a scene-by-scene account of the latest episode of "Seinfeld" to a police sergeant with a knack for "Seinfeld" trivia.

Kramer even looks a bit like "Seinfeld's" Kramer, played by Michael Richards. Both are tall, angular men; both have, well, prominent beaks.

Both also are entrepreneurs.

"I'm shamelessly cashing in on the character," Kramer says of this tour. "I lucked into this career I have achieved celebrity without actual accomplishment."

(Kramer says he isn't worried that the demise of "Seinfeld" will affect interest in the tour. " 'Seinfeld' will be in syndication forever. People still will want to know the stories behind the stories.")

Like "Seinfeld's" Kramer, Kenny has an "intern": University of Central Florida grad Zach Waldman, actually a budding comedian who often leads the tour.

There's another thing the two Kramers have in common, jokes the real Kramer: Both have no visible means of support.

"My philosophy of life: Real work won't kill you, but why take a chance?"

After the comical warm-up, we are herded to a bus equipped with TV monitors, and the tour of Manhattan's Upper West Side begins. This is "Seinfeld" territory. Jerry and buddies Elaine, George and Kramer walk these streets on the NBC sitcom.

Across the street from the Pulse Theater and "theater row" is our first site. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Manhattan Plaza, home of Kenny Kramer. The apartment complex has two red-brick towers that flank a white-domed health club. Before the area's recent gentrification, low, subsidized rents drew actors and other entertainers here, including "Seinfeld" writer David.

As with the rest of Manhattan, the neighborhood is safer and cleaner these days. But Kramer laments: "I miss the old neighborhood."

The sites come fast after the bus gets rolling, and Kramer reviews plot lines that mark them as "Seinfeld" landmarks.

There is Manhattan Ministorage on 11th Avenue and West 43rd Street, where Newman and Kramer stowed mail that Newman the postman had supposedly delivered. The Market Diner on 11th Avenue is where Kramer met black-market shower-head dealers. Nearby is stately Roosevelt Hospital, where Kramer saved the Pig Man and a Junior Mint was dropped into a patient from a surgery theater above the operating table.

Memorable places

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